Thomas Jefferson Papers
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George Ticknor to Thomas Jefferson, 15 March 1816

From George Ticknor

Göttingen March 15. 1816.—

Dear Sir,

I have already in my letters from London, and in the letters I have written you from here Oct. 14. Oct. 30. and Novem. 25. told you of so many changes in my plans, that, if I were not sure that you will appreciate my reasons, I should be almost ashamed to write you now to tell you of another. The truth, however is, that I find Göttingen so entirely suited to my purposes—the opportunities and means and inducements to pursue those studies to which I mean to devote my life are so admirable here,—that I have determined to protract my stay in Europe in order to enjoy them one year longer. To this resolution I came on the 27. Jan. in consequence of letters received the day before from home, and as I, of course at the same time determined to defer my visit to France a year longer, I immediately made arrangements for the purchase of your Books in Paris. I could have easily effected this by a literary1 friend of mine there, but as I knew Mr. Warden’s personal respect for you and as you had told me that he is “an excellent bibliograph,” I wrote to him on the same 27th of Jany desiring him to procure them. A few days since I received his answer of Feb. 12. in which he very willingly promised to undertake it. To day, I have received your favour of Jan. 14. and have instantly written to him and given him your supplement to your catalogue. I hope these arrangements will meet your approbation, and I think they will, as they are the best I could make, though I should much have preferred to purchase them myself, because it is the only opportunity I may ever have of returning you the many obligations you have conferred on me. This I could have done to great advantage in Holland, where the general poverty and the2 failing spirit of literature has made the classicks disgracefully cheap; but, then your list was not received or even made out. In Germany, I have thought it best to do nothing, for the strong spirit of recovered independence, tho’ not freedom, and the perpetual literary labour of the learned make those old editions of the classicks which you desire very rare, and from 120 to 150 per cent. higher than in Holland and probably 50 or 60 higher than in Paris.—If, however, you should like to have any of the recent editions, which have given a new and more philosophical and acute character to the study of antiquity, Germany and Göttingen will best afford them, or if a year hence you should need anything from France or Italy, I shall eagerly seize the opportunity to procure it, and can safely forward it to you, as I am continually sending books to America.—

The letters, however, which your kindness gave me have embarassed me much more than the commission for the books. I have already told you that immediately on my arrival here, I sent the one for the Baron de Moll directly to him by one of the professors and since then, I have returned you the one for Mons. de Nemours, as he is already in the U.S. I could easily send the others to France, but La Fayette and Kosciuzko are no longer there and I can neither procure Mons. Say’s addresse or even ascertain in what quarter of the world he is. They, therefore, still remain with me waiting for favourable circumstances.

The longer I have continued here, the better I have been satisfied with my situation, and the more reasons and inducements I have found to protract my residence. The state of society is, indeed, poor; but the means and opportunities for pursuing the study of the languages particularly the ancient, are, I am persuaded, entirely unrivalled. As I have already written you in my long letter on German literature, I was told even in England and by Dr Parr, England’s best and perhaps, vainest classical scholar, that Germany was farther advanced in the study of antiquity than any other nation. This I find to be true. The men of letters here bring a philosophical spirit to the labour of exposition which is wanting in the same class in all other countries. The consequence is that the study of the classicks has taken a new and more free turn within the last forty years and Germany now leaves England at least twenty years behind in the course where before it always stood first. This has been chiefly effected by the constitution of their Universities, where the professors are kept perpetually in a grinding state of excitement and emulation, and by the constitution of their literary society generally, which admits no man to its honours, who has not written a good book. The consequence, to be sure, is, that ye professors are more envious and jealous of each other than can be well imagined by one who has not been actually within the atmosphere of their spleen, and that more bad and indifferent books are printed than in any country in the world, but then the converse of both is true; and they have more learned professors and authors at this moment, than England & France put together.

I would gladly hope, that the favour of your correspondence may be continued to me from time to time even after the commission for your books has been executed. If you feel any interest in the state of literature in Germany, which has sprung forth in the last thirty years as unbidden and as perfect as the miraculous harvest of Jason, I can be able to give you occasionally-pleasant information—and when I reach France, I shall be able to write to you from the midst of your old friends and from a place associated in your imagination with very many interesting though, perhaps, not always pleasant recollections.—If these slight inducements are sufficient with your own kindness to procure me the favour of an occasional letter, I shall feel myself under new obligations to you.—I shall, also, feel it as a great favour, if you will give me your opinion on the prospects of learning in the U. S. and the best means of promoting it—a subject which now occupies much of my attention.—

I pray you to remember me very respectfully and gratefully to your family.—

Your obliged & obedt sert

Geo: Ticknor

Letters to me, I believe, will continue to come more safely and quickly through the hands of my father.

RC (DLC); postscript written perpendicularly along left margin of last page; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Aug. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. PrC (MHi). Enclosed in Ticknor to TJ, 23 Apr. 1816.

Ticknor stated in his letter to David Bailie Warden, written from Göttingen on the same 27th of jany, that “Your friend Mr. Jefferson, when I left America proposed to send out to me a catalogue of books, which I was to purchase for him in Paris. This catalogue reached me in October last, and, as it was then my intention to visit Paris early in the spring, I have kept it in my hands ever since. To day, however, I have changed my determination, and concluded to remain at this University another year, and as I should extremely regret, that Mr. Jefferson should be so long deprived of the use of his books, upon which I know he has calculated as the amusement of his age and retirement, I take the liberty to address myself to you, to know, whether you will undertake to procure or cause them to be procured immediately, and sent out to America by some early vessel in the spring.—I do this, with the greater assurance of success, as I know your long acquaintance with Mr. Jefferson, & attachment to his person, and as he did me the honour to give me a letter of introduction to you, which I yet hope to deliver. If you will inquire of our publick functionaries in Paris, you will probably find a copy of the letter and catalogue—addressed to me and the original of a letter of credit on Messrs. Perregaux Laffitte & Co. for $350, both of which I pray you to open and consider as addressed to yourself. If you should not find these letters, I pray you to notify me and I will forward you the copies, which I have here.”

In a second letter to Warden, dated Göttingen, 15 Mar. 1816, Ticknor sent TJ’s supplement to his catalogue; noted that “Mr. Jefferson in his letter to me speaks on one subject, on which it may be interesting to you as an American and perhaps as one having friends in America to know his opinion. He thinks that the people, the state legislatures, and the general government are likely to commit great extravagancies in banking, from which he foresees consequences hardly less unfortunate than those which followed the South-sea scheme in England and the assignats in France, to those who may hold the depreciating currency. This was written in the middle of January, and what has happened since I know not”; and added that “I have for you from Mr. Jefferson a copy of the second edition of his ‘Manual for the use of the Senate,’ which I shall send to you if any opportunity offers, if I find none I shall bring it, in the course of the next winter” (RCs in MdHi: Warden Papers).

The letters your kindness gave me included TJ to Baron Karl von Moll, 31 July 1814; TJ to Lafayette, 14 Feb. 1815; TJ to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, 28 Feb. 1815; TJ to Jean Baptiste Say, 2 Mar. 1815; and probably TJ to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 3 July 1815, which was enclosed, along with TJ’s letter to Ticknor of 4 July 1815, in TJ to James Monroe, 15 July 1815. Ticknor’s long letter on german literature was dated 14 Oct. 1815. Jason, leader of the mythological Argonauts, reaped a miraculous harvest of armed soldiers after sowing dragon’s teeth (OCD description begins Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2003 description ends , 154).

1Word interlined.

2Word interlined in place of “increasing.”

Index Entries

  • A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (Thomas Jefferson); D. B. Warden requests search
  • banks; TJ on search
  • currency; paper search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; arrives in U.S. search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; G. Ticknor carries letter for search
  • France; economy of search
  • Germany; book prices in search
  • Germany; scholarship in search
  • Great Britain; financial system of search
  • Jason (mythological character); G. Ticknor mentions search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; orders books search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; lines of credit in Europe search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; banks search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; paper money search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Manual of Parliamentary Practice search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; G. Ticknor carries letter to search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; G. Ticknor carries letter to search
  • Library of Congress; TJ replaces books sold to search
  • Moll, Karl Marie Ehrenbert von, baron; G. Ticknor conveys letter to search
  • Paris; book prices in search
  • Parr, Samuel; on classical scholarship search
  • Perregaux, Laffitte & Compagnie (Paris firm); and TJ’s lines of credit in France search
  • Say, Jean Baptiste; G. Ticknor carries letter for search
  • schools and colleges; University of Göttingen search
  • South Sea bubble search
  • The Netherlands; book prices in search
  • Ticknor, Elisha; forwards letters to and from TJ search
  • Ticknor, George; and books for TJ search
  • Ticknor, George; carries TJ’s letters to Europe search
  • Ticknor, George; enlists D. B. Warden’s assistance in procuring books for TJ search
  • Ticknor, George; letters from search
  • Ticknor, George; on education in Europe search
  • Ticknor, George; travels of search
  • Warden, David Bailie; and books for TJ search